Trump Turns the Screws on Iran's Mullahs

The Trump administration sanctioned Iran’s prison system “for torturous interrogations, forced interrogations, and widespread mistreatment of inmates,” on April 15. It may seem a tiny step in the way of stopping Iranian regime’s human rights abuses against its own citizens but it certainly is significant as a change. It also deals a major blow to the perpetrators. The mullah regime’s survival strategy – from its first day – revolves around total suppression at home coupled with spreading Islamic fundamentalism abroad which simply translates into exporting terrorism to neighboring countries and beyond.

In deciding to deal with the Iranian regime’s human rights violations and the nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration went after the latter alone although at the end of day the nuclear deal was not a success.  The Trump administration hit a nerve by leveling sanctions on none other than Qassem Soleimani’s brother, Sohrab, the head of Iran’s prison system. Qassem Solemani is the chief of Islamic Revolutionary’s Guard Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force, responsible for carrying out operations on behalf of the regime’s suspicious activities in Syria, Iraq and Yemen just to name a few. Sohrab Suleimani is a senior official in the prison system in Iran.

A senior official on the White House National Security Council told the Washington Free Beacon that ‘the Soleimani family has a history of fomenting violence and unrest both inside and outside Iran.’

The same official said:

“It's no coincidence that Sohrab Suleimani is the brother of the notorious Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC's Quds Forces, who has been responsible for so much of the violent disruption Iran has been spreading through the region.”

“There has been a disturbing and significant increase in the number of detentions and executions of Iranian citizens under President Rouhani, and the infamous Evin Prison under Sohrab Suleimani's control has been a key facility in this program of domestic repression,” the official said.

The new designation highlights the existence of Evin Prison, built in 1972 as a symbol of the fearsome power of the state. The prison is intended to send chills down one's spine; to terrify those potential prisoners of conscience just from the thought of spending a single night in the place. During the early days of its opening under the Shah’s notorious SAVAK security organs (the Shah’s secret police), ordinary Iranian citizens with university-aged children would often joke that ‘we don’t want our kids to end up in Evin’s Hotel’ by speaking out against the government. In the early days of 1979 Revolution, the fledgling mullahs’ regime, thinking of capitalizing on public ire for the place in their favor, promised that Evin would soon be turned into a museum for future generations to showcase the cruelty of the Shah’s regime. However, after almost four decades of mullahs’ rule, the brutal edifice is standing and even more appallingly, stories are still leaking out of it. Many of the 30,000 political prisoners executed in the summer of 1988 spent years in Evin. Some, either by accident or some other miracle escaped the fate of their fellow inmates, wrote about their chilling firsthand experiences in that prison.

Within the walls of this dungeon there are gruesome stories to tell of human rights and student activists, men, women, and, at times, small children, (jailed with their mothers) spending time for speaking out against the regime. One story belongs to Gholamreza Khosravi. He served an accumulated prison term of 12 years for simply for donating money to Iranian main opposition’s satellite TV-Simay Asadi (PMOI/MEK). He was held for 40 months in solitary detention before his execution on June 1, 2014. Many U.S. citizens have also been held as hostages in Evin prison under false pretenses of “espionage” and were released after ransoms of some kind were paid. A recent case in point was the cash payment made by the Obama administration in return for the release of four Americans held in Iran’s Evin prison and released on the day the nuclear deal with the Iranian regime was finalized.  

John E. Smith, director of the Treasury Department's Official of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement:

“Today's designations highlight our continued support for the Iranian people and demonstrate our commitment to hold the Government of Iran responsible for its continued repression of its own citizens.” 

He added:

“We will continue to identify, call out, and sanction those who are responsible for serious human rights abuses in Iran.”

“We continue to see Government of Iran officials engage in repressive behavior against its own citizens, including through their mistreatment and abuse of prisoners,” the document states.

“This is especially evident at Evin Prison, which is where numerous prisoners of conscience are held. We have documented these and many other human rights abuses perpetrated by the government of Iran in our annual State Department authored Human Rights, Religious Freedom, and trafficking in persons reports.”

So far, the world has been busy finding ways to stop the mullahs from getting their hands on a nuclear warhead. No one in his right mind can argue with that, but the deal reached went too far and lost focus of the bigger picture with Iran. The Obama administration’s near fixation with getting the nuclear deal signed with the mullahs at any cost made it overlook other – equally serious, if not more serious – issues with the regime such as Iran's destructive role in the region and its trampling of the human rights of its own citizens at home.

Sanctioning the Iranian regime for treatment of its citizen is no doubt a step in the right direction, not only for aiding the struggling people in the country but for calming the region and it definitely will help the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Since the beginning of new administration in the White House, the ruling mullahs in Tehran – despite their occasional whining over the U.S. government slapping down new sanctions for its missile tests – have never reacted extremely against Trump – that is, until April 15. The regime’s foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghassemi, slammed the decision and said, “Washington was not in a position to hold others accountable for rights violations.” He added:  “These measures and unilateral and bullying sanctions are illegitimate according to repeated United Nations resolutions and they have a negative impact on improving human rights.” Ghassemi also argued that “the new sanctions were politically-motivated and illegal.”

The new sanctions leveled on Iranian regime hit where it really hurts. The mullahs not only feel the heat with U.S. airstrikes last week on its closest ally, Bashar Al-Assad in Syria for killing his own citizens with Sarin gas – no doubt with Iran’s blessings – the Iranian people now feel that they are not alone in their struggle for freedom.

Reza Shafiee is a member of Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) 

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